Claire House Children's Hospice took 20 employees on a fundraising retreat to refresh their thinking. CEO David Pastor explains how it helped to reconnect staff - and donors - with the cause.
Around Christmas time in 2013, having devoured Clayton Burnett’s (now Revolutionise) Great Fundraising Report, our fundraising director and I set up a conference call with Alan Clayton and Lucy Gower, and asked if they could come and help us out with putting some of the report’s teachings into practice.
They convinced us that instead of them coming into our organisation and telling us what to do, we should take 20 staff to their fundraising camp at Alan’s hotel in Scotland. A few days away will put you in a new frame of mind, they said.
In order to make this happen, I needed the backing of our trustees. It was a slightly intangible idea to convey; there were no guarantees that they would see a direct return on their investment. Luckily for us, our trustees recognise the value of thinking differently; it’s the old adage of ‘if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got’. They were very supportive, and came back with a 'yes' quite quickly.
People often make the mistake of thinking that in order to have a great fundraising idea, you just involve fundraisers. But in order for great fundraising to happen, you need the support of the whole organisation; everyone needs to be behind it. With this in mind, we got a cross-team group of people together for the trip, including people from our care team.
The key purpose of the trip was to reconnect our staff with the cause. We started from the beginning, and looked at what the fundamental purpose of Claire House is. The purpose is, we believe, to reach out to every child with a life-threatening or terminal illness. Not some of them; all of them.
The immediate reaction was, of course: “But we haven’t got enough money, how on earth will we ever do that?”. But that was the point. Now, everyone was on the same page; we all knew that we needed to raise a lot more money - and that the more money we raised, the better job we would do in helping children.
The most powerful element of our time away was having people from our service delivery team there. Now they were able to understand how fundraising is relevant to them, and how every donor matters.
Since returning from the trip, we have been steadily closing the gap between fundraising and service delivery. Yes, we’ve got different priorities within each team, but now our care team really understands that money and the mission are the same thing; meanwhile the fundraising team now really have that connection with the cause.
Putting it into practice
So how could we go about putting all the things we’d learned in Scotland into practice? Well, first off, we took the Great Fundraising report and put it into our language, and created a plan that we could follow; one that embeds those great fundraising concepts and skills in our own organisation.
As part of this, we put together a team of 7 or 8 people, led by me, to work out how we might deliver the dream of helping every child and family. We knew that it would come down to doing things differently. We needed to stop being so hooked up on who were are and what we do, and instead to think about how we could connect our donors directly to the cause - and then get out of the way.
Taking a new approach
One key change we made was in the way we treat our donors. In the past, we would invite people over to look around our hospice, and we’d use it as an opportunity to explain the nuts and bolts of what the organisation does. We’d say “Here’s a bedroom, we’ve got ten beds; we’ve got a hospice to home team, here’s their office; we’ve got a counselling team, here’s their office, and here’s the counselling one-to-one room…” But we realised that in doing that, we weren’t actually explaining any of the difference we were making to the children.
Now, rather than showing donors around from bedroom after bedroom and explaining the structure of the organisation (which quite frankly no donor cares about), we will bring them in and first off, show them a short video which we put together for Children In Need. It tells the story of a little girl called Ellie who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and who was cared for at the hospice. Next, we will take them to a bedroom and tell them the story of a child who stayed in that room. For example: “There was a young lad called Jack who passed away here. He absolutely loved Mr Bump. His mum got to read him Mr Bump with his favourite Mr Man duvet on the bed, the day he died. You, as donors, made that happen - thank you.”
We are telling stories that emotionally connect our donors to the beneficiaries. We have changed from saying: “We are Claire House, here is our building, we have ten beds, we have a hospice to house team and we have a counselling team”, to: “It’s brilliant that you’ve supported us, let us show you the difference you’ve made”.
A gradual cultural shift
We are still in the implementation phase of our new approach, and we don’t expect to see any dramatic, tangible results for at least 18 months. While we have seen some small results so far (the Children In Need video, for example, led to a small rise in donations), I don’t yet have a lovely story of a £100k donation to share with you. But I think that would be the wrong thing to look for at this stage. This is not about amazing new fundraising ideas that change the world overnight; it’s about gradually changing the culture of the organisation, so that our job becomes giving our donor the best possible experience.
This is about the long term, and acknowledging that while we clearly need to hit our monthly and annual targets, the really big ‘win’ for a children’s hospice is legacy giving. So we are trying to change our approach to thinking more long term, and we are trying our best to give every donor an amazing experience and make them feel that they really matter.
The simple fact is: If we’re going to help more children in the future, we need to raise more money. We don’t have all the answers, but I think we certainly understand the principles now, and we know the approach we need to take in order to make it happen.
Taking the lead
To drive change within your organisation, charity leaders need to stand up and put their name against an opportunity, and be prepared to take the blame if it goes wrong - and for that to be OK. If people see you doing that, then others start to think: “Okay, I can go and try something now, I can take this risk and if it goes wrong that’s alright, because I will have learned something valuable from it”.
Charity leaders can spend all their time worrying about saving money, but I do wonder if more of them spent their time worrying about raising money, they’d make more of a difference. Perhaps they would focus less on investment policies which probably makes tiny differences, and more on pursuing opportunities that could make really big differences.
David Pastor is chief executive of Claire House Children’s Hospice